Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Return of the Manicheans?

Manichaeism was a religion started by a man known to us today as Mani, around 280AD in what is today Iraq.

While much is known to us today about the religion, a lot more is unknown and even much of what we do know is from accounts written by people in opposition to Manichaeism. In other words: a lot of what we know about Manichaeism was written by their enemies, not themselves.

According to most accounts, Manichaeism died-out in China by the 14th century AD and it had already been extinguished in its native Iraq some centuries earlier.

Mani was born into a family of Christians. But, their faith was not the Christianity we know today, but was a blend of Judaism and Christianity and they were  known as the Elcesaites. Even the name Mani might not even be his real name, but simply a title. The title "mani" is derived from the Babylonian-Aramaic word "Mânâ", meaning "illustrious" and the man himself soon began using the name as his own. His real name is not known to us with certainty.

Mani is said to have written several books , none of which is available to us today beyond mere fragments. Scholars have tried to piece them all together, but the passage of time, persecution by various governments and lack of sympathetic bodies (such as a library) who would preserve them, means that it is highly unlikely that we will ever get a complete text of any book that Mani wrote. This is not unusual, since many books of various types and authors from Antiquity have been lost to us beyond recovery.

So, after a period of phenomenal growth, Manichaeism was persecuted out of existence, never to be seen again as a living religion.

Or will it?

Imagine my surprise to discover that there are people today who claim to be Manichean, (also spelled Manichaean). Not only that, they've got actual churches, patriarchs and written scriptures.

Here's a video posted a few years ago by a man who claimed at the time to be the Patriarch of the Manichaean Church and he goes by the title His Holiness Mar Innai Kharba.
The video was posted in 2013,  and there are several videos on the channel, Maninaye Patriarchate, but no new videos have been posted in two years. ("Maninaye" is supposedly how the ancient Manicheans referred to themselves) Likewise, their Twitter account hasn't been active since 2013. A new Twitter account and YouTube channel have been opened and they are active. Innai Kharba no longer claims to be the Patriarch of the Manichaean Church, but only the representative of the Kingdom of Light Church.

This group claims that a man known as Mir Izgadda is "the savior of Manichaeism" and is the "Divine Messenger of this Age". They do this in spite of Mani himself declaring himself to be not only the Paraclete Jesus spoke about in the Gospel of John (14:6, 14:26,   15:26 and 16:7) but also the last prophet to be sent to Mankind. In other words, he's a sort of Manichean Messiah. Supposedly, Mir Izgadda lives in Tehran, Iran and that the Mother Church of Manichaeism is also located there. This is interesting, since the Iranian Government makes no mention of Manicheans currently living in their country.

Here's what Mir Izgadda is supposed to look like

He's kind of young to be any kind of religious leader, I think. Not to worry, though. He's got all kinds of Divine powers, so I guess it keeps him looking young. Too bad that he couldn't even keep his Twitter account going, though. I suppose divine powers have their limits.

Here's another picture of him, which was probably the source of the one above

Oddly, there are a number of people with the name Tarendra who own several websites associated with this group:

Darren Tarendra owns
  • religionoflight.org (posts Epistles, general letters, studies, and news)
Mahvar Tarendra owns
  • mithranet.com (their social networking site)
and Mir Tarendra is the registrant of
  • maninaye.com (expired website)
  • liberationherald.com (supposedly purchased from the Old Order Manichaean Brethren by Jonathan bar Stephen Tarendra, which I suspect to be the real name of Mir Tarendra, though I have no proof, aside from the fact that Mir Tarendra is the registrant of this site)
  • marmani.org (links directly to manichaean.org)
  • oldorder.org (expired website)
  • manichaean.org
  • manichaeanchurch.org
  • maninaye.org (expired website)
  • torahcovenant.org (an apparently Jewish website, but links to two other sites claiming affiliation with a group claiming to be Orthodox Jews who follow the teachings of Rabbi Yehoshua, also known as Jesus Christ. So, these guys are as Jewish as the Pope)
Let's not forget that Aaron Tarendra is part of the Synod of the Arkhegosate in the U.S and Michael Tarendra serves as their spokesman from Iran.

Mir Tarendra also owns tarendra.org which claims to be a religion all by itself. It doesn't refer to itself as Manichaeism, but as "Tarendraism" and its followers are called "Tarendrans". I find it rather disturbing when people name religions after themselves. Even Jesus and Muhummad didn't do that.

Check this out
The words and sayings of Mir Tarendra form the main basis of the sacred texts of Tarendrans. All that our Lord teaches or conveys to us from the Great Father who is outside time and creation, is holy to us.The main text known as the “Holy Book of Light and Truth” or the “Book of Tarendra” contain not only the teachings of the Divine Messenger for our modern day, but also some more ancient texts from the time of Enoch, the psalmists and various prophets.Our Holy Book is available in whole or in part in sixty languages. More information will be posted here along with links to download or purchase copies of the Book of Tarendra.
On this page, a picture previously said to be that of Mir Izgadda is shown, but is not identified. Neither is Mir Izgadda mentioned by name and who is being referred to as "the Divine Messenger for our modern day" could easily be assumed to be Mir Tarendra, not Mir Izgadda.

First, we're talking about Mani, then it's Mir Izgadda (the supposed Divine Messenger and Core of Manichaeism") and now it's Mir Tarendra. Who's the inspiration of this religion, anyway?

So, whenever these "Manicheans" quote from scripture, they aren't quoting from any of the books written by Mani (which have mostly been lost) but from books written by Mir Tarendra.

Okay, there's more
Mir Tarendra, whose name means “Lord-Chief of the Stars” can be viewed as one of the final Messengers of the current age. In most cases there are no specific time limits set on the mission of any particular Divine Messenger and in some instances, the same Divine Messenger may be sent to serve in more than one age – for example, Mar Mani the Prophet, who was born in 216 C.E. and once again serves in this modern day period of time.
Yes, "tarendra" does mean "prince of stars" in the Sanskrit (Sanskrit, not Persian or Aramaic) language. So, what? While not common, I found several people with that name in a simple Facebook search. I should also mention that just about everyone with the name Tarendra, either as a first or last name was from India, not Iran.

Nothing about these guys seems legitimate.

Manichaeism itself borrowed heavily from other faiths, especially Christianity and it continues with these people calling themselves a church and giving themselves titles like Patriarch. Even the original organization of the Manichaens looks like a copy of the structure of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

I'm kind of curious as why these people even celebrate the Sabbath, which they call "Shabta". What authentic Manichean text indicates that Mani ever told his people to observe a Sabbath day, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, just like the Jews. Granted, they don't have all the same restrictions on Sabbath observance that Jews do, but I'm curious about how they got the idea to include it in their religion.

I've noticed these guys saying "shlama" (Aramaic word for "peace") to each other, just like Jews say "shalom" or Muslims say "salaam". Men call each other "akhi" (Aramaic and Arabic for "brother"). Jews say "shalom", which is Hebrew for "peace" because their Bible was written in Hebrew. Muslims say "salaam", which is Arabic for "peace" because the Qur'an is in Arabic. These modern Manicheans also use Il'Yah as the name of God, which is actually a Slavic word, derived from Hebrew "Elyahu", which means "My God is He". Ilyah is also a Kurdish word that means "great" or "glorious". The Aramaic name for God is "Elah" or "Elaha", which they use on one of their websites, but otherwise stick with Il'Yah. I guess "Ellaha" doesn't get much use because it sounds too much like "Allah". But, since none of the current Manichean books are in Aramaic, why do they use Aramaic words, in the first place? Is this a bit of cultural appropriation? Mani wrote most of his books in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, but his last book was written in Farsi. The Syriac/Aramaic language doesn't appear to have any sort of significance in Manichaeism, either in ancient times or now.

I need to also point-out that the title "Mir" that they like to use for themselves is actually derived from the Arabic word "Emir", which means "lord". The Persians adopted its use after Islam was introduced to the region. It would be more correct for them to use the word "Mar", which is a Syriac (the language of Mani), word which means "my lord". It had been used by Syriac Christians as a title for Bishops and also by Middle Eastern Jews as a title for well-respected Rabbis. I haven't found anything about it being used in respect to Manichean leaders until these guys started using it.

What these "Manicheans" or "Tarendrans" are spreading around is simply a religion assembled like a plate at a salad bar. A little bit of authentic Manichaeism, a bit of Atenism, add some Christianity and some Judaism to make people feel more comfortable and spice it up with some esoteric knowledge for good measure. Voila! You have Modern Manichaeism. It even has the added benefit of mysterious men who receive direct inspiration from God. What's not to love about it?

Why does this look like a bunch of guys from the Tarendra family got together and decided to start their own religion? Of course, co-opting an existing one would be rather difficult, because that faith would still have followers and scholars who could easily refute whatever claims some charlatan would make, not to forget the holy books would still be around. But, if you take the name of an old religion with no living followers and which is virtually unknown outside of scholarly circles, it's just so much easier. Rather than try to sell a new religion, they could simply claim to be an old religion, returning to the open world after a long exile in the shadows. It's an intriguing story. 

Well, it would be intriguing to a total idiot.

Normally, I wouldn't give a shit about this sort of thing. But, when someone claims that they've got a direct connection to God and that we'd better get ready for the End of the World, I get a little nervous. 

These Manicheans (or Tarendrans) don't seem to even have the staying power of the people whose religion's name they're using. Most of their YouTube and Twitter accounts they had started around 2012 are either inactive or have just a tiny number of followers. Most of their online activity today seems to be relegated to talking to each other on Mithranet. They hit the ground running three years ago, but soon ran out of steam when they didn't get as big a response as they may have hoped for in the beginning.

Here's a funny story: a few years ago, James Taranto a writer for the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that the Manicheans found offensive because it supposedly "blasphemed" by misusing the name of Mani. Actually, it wouldn't be blasphemy, because that would be an offense involving misusing the name of God, the proper word would have been "sacrilege". Anyway, the Westmoreland Times published an article where the Manicheans demanded both an apology and the removal of the article from the Wall Street Journal's website. Of course, the article is still available and I seriously doubt if the WSJ ever issued any kind of apology.

In the Westmoreland Times article, it also mentioned that Manicheans in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia observed a "Water festival". Actually, it isn't even referred to as a water festival by the participants. The festivities were actually the celebration of the New Year, which included - but does not center around - people throwing water on each other. The religious ceremonies held are Buddhist, not Manichean.

Manichaeism died-out centuries ago after long-term persecutions by governments as diverse as the Abbasid Caliphate, the Roman and Chinese Empires as well as the Persians. Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, etc all did their part. So, no one has clean hands. But, there must have been something inherently wrong with Manichaeism itself for it to vanish like it did. 

While Manicheans were persecuted, so were the Jews. The Jews suffered millennia of persecution from pagans to Christians to Muslims and they're still around. The Manicheans suffered for a few centuries and they're gone. Six million Jews were killed in Europe in the 20th century and they've bounced back. They even have their own country now. So, Jews endured thousands of years of persecution and they're still around. Manicheans couldn't survive 1200 years.  

Oh, and one more thing. These people are claiming that they have people in Iran, as well as in Syria and Egypt. It's worthwhile to point out that these people of "The Religion of Light" make no bones about their contempt for the Islamic religion. Here are some examples:
Innai Kharba said this:
"I posted this because I feel that people should know what the Religion of Light thinks about this topic.
Our teachings tells us very clearly that Islam is evil. Its founder was a false prophet and Islam is a demonic religion. No one who remains in it will enter the Kingdom of Light.
The actions of individuals who are Muslims that are kind or caring are to be respected. It does not mean we respect the religion they are part of, however.
No amount of kind acts turns a demonic religion into a divinely revealed and covenanting faith.
When a Muslim or a Wiccan or a Mormon or an Atheist is being kind, it is not because of their respective belief systems that they are manifesting kindness, but that aspect of their own souls that is shining through, in many cases, in spite of the religions they happen to espouse.
It is a good thing if Muslims protect a synagogue. I hope there are more actions from islamic communities that reflect this sentiment.
But with that being said, it does not, nor will it ever, mean that Islam is a path to paradise which it is not. A single kindness by a Muslim community does not wipe out the countless acts of hostility perpetrated by Muslims in the world. The kind act of a Muslim is a very good thing. The state of being in Islam, hoping in vain that it will be your path to Paradise, is not a good thing."
from Mitnaranuta d’Mir Izgadda – Chapter 67
25. Islam itself is a house of death, destruction and violence.
26. Islam, claimed by some to be a religion of peace, is one of the most violent ideologies in existence.
27. Islam is guilty of the murder of millions of innocent people and thousands of Manichaean sons and daughters.
28. Abraham is appalled at the activities of darkness which is so prevalent within Islam and has said that those who continue practising its falsehood are doomed to the lowest realms of hell where wild dogs snap at their hands and at their faces like the hungry and unsatisfied demons in which they serve.
Under "Additional Commandments Held in Common by Friends of Mar Mani"
Do not teach that “Allah” is the same as “Yahweh” or the Great Father.
Do not teach that “Muhammad” was a divine messenger sent by God.
You can also read this publication which goes into detail.

And there's this video which should remove all doubt about how they feel about Islam and Muhummad

If these guys really are in these countries (which I doubt) they should be aware that speaking so openly about their hatred of Islam is neither wise nor healthy. It might make them more popular in the West, but they'll make more enemies than they know what to do with if the Muslims in those countries knew how they really felt about their religion.

I'm not convinced that these people really have churches in Iran or that Manicheans are currently in Iran, Syria or Egypt. While the websites mention Manichaeans in Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, the websites they have aren't in any of the languages of those countries. Their sites are published in English, Spanish and Portuguese.  I haven't seen anything of theirs in Farsi, Pashto, Arabic or Uzbek.

I'll take a stab in the dark and hypothesize that most, if not all, the names mentioned on their websites as Church leaders are fake too. They never give an address where you can contact their guys in China or even in the USA; you have to email them through the website. How do we even know these people exist in real life? We don't. We're just supposed to take their word for it. Since they tried to pass-off a Buddhist New Year festival as a Manichaean ceremony, I'll need a bit more evidence than their say-so.

Duane Browning
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